Capture stunning firework displays this 4th July

Lauren Scott

Learn how to maximise the impact of your illumination images without resorting to the automated firework modes

Capture stunning firework displays this 4th July

Fireworks can be exciting subjects to photograph, capturing the thrill of an event or celebration. The Fourth of July is an American holiday celebrating the Declaration of Independence and is traditionally associated with wondrous displays of fireworks that light up the sky. Why not use this opportunity to perfect your night-shot techniques as well as in post-production to edit the colour balance and sharpness. There are simple ways to capture these illuminations in the night sky, such as with a smartphone or automatic compact, but for the best results follow our tutorial here and get some stunning shots this 4th July.

1. Keep it sharp

Capture stunning firework displays this 4th July

For firework shots it’s nearly essential that you set the camera on a tripod. This will allow you to set up the focus and composition but more importantly it will mean being able to use longer shutter speeds to capture the fireworks’ movement. As you’ll be outside, weather can move the tripod and cause unwanted motion blur. Be aware that in strong winds, you might have to weigh the tripod down. For the ultimate in shot sharpness, use a cable release so that you don’t jolt the camera when pressing the shutter. Self-timer can also be used for the same concept, but for this you have to know when the fireworks are going to appear!

2. Adjust the shutter

Capture stunning firework displays this 4th July

The shutter speed you use will depend on the available light, your composition and the size of the fireworks you’re shooting. Experiment with frames that last a couple of seconds, making it longer if you’re not getting enough of the action. If you keep the tripod in the same place, you could layer several images over one another afterwards in photoshop for a richer scene.

3. Tweak the ISO

Capture stunning firework displays this 4th July

The ISO is a particularly important element to think about when shooting at night. It can be tempting to boost the ISO high to compensate for the lack of light, however, when there are both bright and dark areas in a shot, noise can be very prominent. Avoid this by manually adjusting your ISO to its lowest setting.

4. Stay focussed

Capture stunning firework displays this 4th July

It’s a good idea to set your focus before taking your shot. Either focus on something at the same distance as the fireworks and then switch to manual focus, or alternatively set your camera to infinity focus – this is ideal if the fireworks are very far away.

After the event… Editing your photographs

Like any other uncontrollable subject, there are lots of other factors to consider, such as where in the sky the fireworks will be and the wind direction that will affect the clouds of smoke. You will need to look out for specific firework patterns, colours and shapes to determine what you want to capture. You will then need to time it perfectly, considering how the fireworks will appear in the sky and how the light will affect your scene as a whole.

If you’ve mastered all these factors and got the shots that you’re happy with, it’s time to edit. Effective post-production will take your images to an even more dynamic level and make all the hard work in-camera worth it.

1. Sharpening your shot

Capture stunning firework displays this 4th July

With manually focusing and photographing moving subjects, it’s likely that your shots will benefit from a little bit of sharpening. There are numerous ways to sharpen images in Photoshop. One of the most overlooked filters that can help you achieve better results with more control is found by going to Filter -> Other menu and selecting the high pass filter.

2. Reduce the noise

Capture stunning firework displays this 4th July

Shooting at night and with bright subjects will highlight any noise in your image, so carrying out noise reduction will improve the look of your shot. If you can’t seem to reduce the noise without losing lots of image detail, try the Advanced Options, which allow you to reduce noise on a channel-by-channel basis.

3. Change the colours

Capture stunning firework displays this 4th July

With slight adjustments to the Hue/Saturation of your image, it’s possible to alter the colours of the fireworks for a completely new look.

Another tool that you can use to change color is the Replace Color tool. To see this tool at work, select Image > Adjustments > Replace Color. It must be applied as an adjustment and cannot be used as an adjustment layer so apply it to a duplicate of the background.

Find your occassion and share it with us!

Firework displays can evoke an array of emotions in people. Not only are they spectacular to watch, but are usually associated with momentous occassions.

With these tips at your fingertips, it’s time to shoot those celebrations and if you’ve got a shot that you’re particularly proud of why not share it in our gallery.

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